Book review - Sensible Politics. The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism
Publisher MIT Press write: Political acts are encoded in medial forms--feet marching on a street, punch holes on a card, images on live stream, tweets--that have force, shaping people as subjects and constituting the contours of what is sensible, legible, visible. Thus, these events define the terms of political possibility and create terrain for political actions.
Sensible Politics: The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism considers the constitutive role played by aesthetic and performative techniques in the staging of claims by nongovernmental activists. Attending to political aesthetics means focusing not on a disembodied image that travels under the concept of art or visual culture, nor on a preformed domain of the political that seeks subsequent expression in media form. Instead, it requires bringing the two realms together into the same analytic frame. Drawing on the work of a diverse group of contributors, from art historians, anthropologists, and political theorists to artists, filmmakers, and architects, Sensible Politics situates aesthetic forms within broader activist contexts and networks of circulation and in so doing offers critical insight into the practices of mediation whereby the political becomes manifest.
I left this book untouched for months when i saw that it counted over 650 pages. That wasn't the smartest thing i've done this year. Once i finally opened it, i realized that Sensible Politics was a brilliant series of short essays written by smart people about some of the artists, thinkers and works i admire the most. Think Trevor Paglen, Eyal Weizman, Michael Rakowitz, Allan Sekula, Rebecca Gomperts, etc. There's also Jean-Luc Godard, i'm only mentioning him we're all supposed to worship his work.
Surprisingly, there's no lame duck in these essays. I was expecting to skip through a couple of stodgy or irrelevant texts but all i've read so far is a series of very informative and well-articulated essays.
Here are just a few examples of the scope and pertinence of the essays: Ariella Azoulay discusses how images taken as casual souvenir can quickly become evidence that document a crime (think of the torture of the prisoners held at Abu Ghraib) or conversely, turn an abuse into an act of kindness, Meg Mclagan explains how successful documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth or Supersize Me have paved the way for socially-engaged documentaries that double as commodities with box office appeal, Carrie Lambert-Beatty analyzes how labeling Women on Waves as an art project enabled the activists to bypass legal hurdles, film maker Kirsten Johnson shares her experience of being an embedded journalist in Guantanamo Bay and talks about the military's restrictions surrounding the prison and the trial of Salim Hamdan, Sam Gregory, Program Director at the human right organization WITNESS talks about the fate of grassroot human right footage in the youtube age, the two editors of the book interview Eyal Weizman about forensic architecture, Fayne Ginsburg raises the story of the virtual appropriation on Second Life of Uluru, a major Arborigenal sacred site where non-Aborigenals are not allowed to take photos or to film.
Sensible Politics. The Visual Culture of Nongovernmental Activism decodes and dissects the multiple interconnections between visual culture and the domain of the political. And it does it in a series of texts that are far-reaching, bold and never predictable. I'll recommend this book for anyone interested in activism, politics, social science, culture or/and visual art.
Image on the homepage: © Oliver Weiken, Germany, Shortlist, Current Affairs, Professional Competition, 2013 Sony World Photography Awards. Image Description: Palestinian morticians prepare the body of a man who died during an Israeli airstrike for his funeral in a morgue in a hospital in the Jabalya refugee camp, north of Gaza City, 21 November 2012.